I hear this refrain often from businesses: “I can’t sink the expense into training my staff because they might leave and take valuable company information with them!”
Whoa. Talk about a self-fulfilling prophesy.
If your customer facing staff are forced to read off of scripts, yet cannot answer the simplest of customer questions, you are headed towards disaster.
In these economic times, organisations that are built on a foundation of trust and value, outperform their competitors many fold. The current argument against paying customer facing staff a living wage, is that it will add too much cost to the enterprise.
We say failure to involve them in your business costs much more in lost ‘moments of truth.’
P&O Ferries to the Continent
From the port of Dover on the southern tip of England, one can cross the English Channel with their car, caravan, tour bus or lorry in about 90 minutes’ time.
Living in Wales and often travelling to family in The Netherlands, it is the midpoint of a long journey taken several times each year. The roughly 2 hour break gives one the chance to stretch, have a meal, shop for duty-free goods, enjoy the sea air on deck (OK Channel Air) and it is usually done with good service considering how frequently these ships take the route.
The game changer for P&O was the installation of an online Web odering interface that allows P&O to scan the licence plate on my vehicle and, as I pull up to the check-in window, the attendant/agent says:
“Good morning Mr. Campbell, are there still four of you travelling? We have you on the next ship departing (despite my being 90 minutes early and scheduled for the next one). Please drive to lane 214, place this card on your auto mirror and show this ticket to the agent. We will board in 15 minutes.”
It is stunningly efficient and fast when cars queue by the dozens to prepare to board. They could send me off to the hinterlands to await my assigned passage but they know when you have driven a long distance, the last thing you want to do is wait for a ship, especially if one is about to leave.
The problems arise in the back office. When you need to make a change, the focus there is, well, not so focused. The call centres appear to be the starting point for most entry-level employees, thus they are likely the poorest paid and trained.
Aside from the fact I have to pay to call P&O to make a reservation (£.05 – £0.11 pence per minute, £0.17 pence per minute on my cell phone) and then get someone who clearly does not know what they are doing if the conversation goes off script is infuriating.
With the recent illness of a family member, my wife made this journey alone and had to extend her stay a week. She knew this would cost £20 more to change and called the centre. She was greeted by an incompetent who had to continually check with a supervisor AT HER EXPENSE as the metre kept running. After making the payment, getting an e-mail receipt for the transaction, the disconnect in the system was sucuh that when she arrived at the french port of Calais to return to Dover, they had no record of the change and for some reason she needed to pay another $6.
Rather than push the issue, she just paid it. But it left a bad taste in her mouth because that was one badly handled moment of truth that coloured her impression of the enterprise.
No one took responsibility, they were afraid of preserving their job because that £6 was held over the attendant/agent’s head for mistakes in the back office.
The right way to handle that was to rather than hold up the queue, skip the £6 on a £now £110 ticket, let her through and sort it later via the call centre. Instead the action slowed those behind her and aggravated a good customer.
And P&O are not alone. ‘By the book Bennie’s and Bertha’s’ who have:
– zero ability to think and act on behalf of a customer in the moment,
– zero ability to look at the cost benefit relationship of £6 vs almost £500 over year they make on our family’s passages and
– zero ability to think of the consequences of their actions
cost businesses untold business because there is a choice of carriers from Dover to Calais, Dunkirk and other locations.the need
The technology works wonderfully. The need is o nthe people culture skills side.
When the focus is on efficiency over all, the customer benefits and gets caught when it goes wrong by a culture that does not trust its employees to do the right thing.
Air Atlanta was a hit in the 1990’s because they publicly stated, “no employee will ever be fired for doing anything on behalf of a customer.” The legend has it that employees would do anything from tracking down a customer to being them and hand deliver an important left behind briefcase to arranging express delivery of a hand carried article needed in a wedding that was left in the terminal.
What systems do you put in place and can your employees manage moments of truth and work on behalf of the customer above all? If not, why not?
Denis G. Campbell is editor of UK Progressive and a Principal with B2E Consulting in London. He helps large organisations improve their customer focus and change their internal culture. You can reach him on +44 (0)20 3475 2214
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